Saturday, December 13, 2008

Origin of life: A meatier theory? Or just another theory?

Over at Access Research Network, British physicist David Tyler asks, "Did meteorite impacts help to spawn life?", as per the theory of the week:
The Scientific American report emphasized the tentative nature of the research: meteorites "may have helped spawn life" and "Did heat, pressure and carbon from meteorite impacts create biological precursors?" An astrobiologist is said to fear "that theories of life's origin may never move beyond the hypothetical". Astronomer Donald Brownlee found the research interesting but added: "If the body is too large, generated materials are probably destroyed by impact processes." One of the authors of the paper cautioned that the meteorite-impact theory "is not ready to supplant the vaunted Miller-Urey experiment".
Tyler notes,

It is one thing to generate organic molecules but quite another to label them as "precursors of life". Life does not exist without biological information, and until abiogenesis research takes information seriously, it will continue to explore cul-de-sac avenues.

(Biomolecule formation by oceanic impacts on early Earth Yoshihiro Furukawa, Toshimori Sekine, Masahiro Oba, Takeshi Kakegawa & Hiromoto Nakazawa Nature Geoscience, Published online: 7 December 2008 doi:10.1038/ngeo383)

Yes, that is the point precisely. Current research models are looking for something that probably never happened and never could have happened: Random swish of chemicals gradually produces Altair that later evolves through natural selection acting on random mutations into a dual core processor. At some point, I am going to make a list of all the origin of life scenarios I have heard along these lines, but I'd have to take time off ...

To me, the fundamental insight of the intelligent design theorists has been to apply insights from information theory to biology. The results were disastrous for Darwinian theory, of course -and especially ruinous for the new atheism movement that depends so heavily on Darwinism as its creation story.

The New Atheists should have stuck to Francis Crick's "Maybe space aliens seeded life", if you ask me. That's not disprovable. After all, I can be pretty certain that life didn't happen by chance but I can't prove space aliens weren't involved.

It's kind of like finding a dead guy with six knives sticking out of his back. The random origin of life people want me to believe it was an accident and the self-organization people want me to believe it was a suicide. Yeah really. But dismissing impossible hypotheses like that doesn't tell me whose hands were on those six knives, or why. Depending on the circumstances, I might never find out, actually. It might be a cold case. But if I were on a coroner's jury I could sleep soundly after returning a verdict of: wilful murder by person or persons unknown.

See also:

Origin of life: Oldest Earth rocks may show signs of life, in which case ...

Origin of life: Positive evidence of intelligent design?

Origin of life: But is being greedy enough?

Origin of life: Ah, that "just so happens" intermediate series of chemical steps

Why should the search for Darwin's "warm little puddle" be publicly funded?